Galaxy S4 would be the ultimate iPhone, says analyst

Others not so taken with the 5-inch phablet, and argue talk of Apple falling behind Samsung is crazy

Samsung's new Galaxy S4 would be the "ultimate smartphone" if it ran Apple's iOS and accessed the Cupertino, Calif. company's app ecosystem, according to a clearly-impressed analyst. Others, however, dismissed the idea.

Others were less likely to think that Samsung's introduction yesterday of the new 5-in. "phablet" is a danger to Apple's lucrative iPhone business, with some dismissing talk that the Korean firm has beaten Apple in the innovation battle as nonsense.

But Brian Marshall of the ISI Group, who covers Apple for the Wall Street investment research firm, was taken with the Galaxy S4.

"If the Galaxy S4 ran the iOS platform and had Apple's ecosystem attached to it, it would likely be the world's 'ultimate smartphone,' [one that combined] the best hardware design with the best software/ecosystem," said Marshall in a note to clients.

In that note, Marshall cited the Galaxy's S4's high-resolution screen -- a Super AMOLED (Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display rated at 441 pixels-per-inch -- the 13-megapixel camera, eye-tracked scrolling, and its form factor, which while larger than the iPhone 5, is just slightly thicker and weighs only six-tenths of an ounce more.

"We are thoroughly impressed by its design and specifications," Marshall added. "In our view, the S4 possesses all the relevant new features for an industry-leading product."

Yet, other experts were not swept away.

Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets, and like Marshall a Wall Street analyst, was dismissive of the new Galaxy, saying adding features was "the easy stuff to do" compared to competing on an app ecosystem basis, where the long-time Apple bull said iPhone still holds the cards.

White did acknowledge that the larger AMOLED screen was "a strong point for now," but predicted that other smartphone makers will respond with similar high-resolution screens, and that Apple, in fact, would adopt Sharp's IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) display technology, a rival to Super AMOLED

But he was most caustic when talking about media reports that Samsung -- as evidenced by that firm's Galaxy smartphones, including the S4 -- had leapfrogged Apple and was out-innovating Cupertino.

"Get real, that's crazy talk," said White. "The stock price is hurting Apple, and people look for a reason for that. People are just frustrated [with the share price] and looking for explanations. But Samsung isn't out-innovating Apple."

Ezra Gottheil, an industry analyst with Technology Business Research, didn't see Samsung as outpacing Apple, either. But he had a different take.

"I think what you've got here are signs that when a market matures, people come up with feature X, not make-or-break features that make consumers think, 'Oh, this is awesome, I have to have it,'" said Gottheil. "Instead, you have companies [like Samsung and Apple] at similar levels of sophistication, with platforms similarly evolved, that are racking their brains to make people go, "Oooooh and Ahhhhh."

But Apple will react, whether to Samsung's specific moves or in a more general way to the shifting mobile market, all three analysts said.

Marshall, for instance, said Apple would introduce a phablet design, a 5-in. iPhone, this summer. White, however, rejected that. "There are no data points for [an Apple] phablet this year," White said.

Instead, Apple will launch its next-generation iPhone -- White, like many others, referred to it as the "iPhone 5S" -- this June, alongside a lower-priced iPhone that can better compete in international and emerging markets.

"Refreshes will be faster," White predicted of Apple's more-or-less annual new-iPhone debuts. "And as they segment the market, they will have a phablet ... eventually."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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Gregg Keizer

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